Driving positive change – communicating to a changing demographic
“As businesses, we have to be seen to act with purpose and drive positive change,” began Collette Philip, founder of the brand and strategy agency Brand By Me. She explained that, in the past, organisations had been divided into those responsible for driving social change and “doing good”, and those responsible for driving profit. Now, these two things are “one and the same”.
Driving positive change means creating “win, win, win” situations – for customers, for the business in terms of profitability and sustainability, and for the wider world in terms of looking at ways a business could inspire change. “That’s what we mean by positive change. It’s about our ability to drive all three – wins for our customers, wins for our businesses and ourselves, and wins for the world around us,” she said.
The win for the wider world could be anything from looking at how an organisation contributes to the wider environment, to the community around it, or how it could do business in a way that delivered positive impact. Giving an example, she described how Ikea was now looking at options such as recycling and repair programmes for its furniture and at furniture rental; it had also made a commitment that, by 2020, its factories would be powered by clean energy. “It’s an example of how they are delivering positive change through their business,” she said.
As well as aiming to achieve these win, win, wins, businesses also have to communicate what they are doing. However, population demographics are changing – the population wis ageing, it is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse and the number of single person households is rising, for example. These wider demographic changes have massive impacts on businesses.
“In a world where the profile of our audience is changing rapidly, how can we make sure that we are able to communicate with them, that we are able to understand their needs?” she asked.
The answer, she said, was to stop focusing on demographics and instead look at a broader way of targeting and understanding different audiences.
She described three tools used by her brand consultancy to help its clients drive positive change within different spheres, and to understand, engage with, and communicate to different audiences.
The first tool helps businesses and individuals understand themselves. It asks them to evaluate their purpose (why they existed), their personality (how they did things in a unique way), their values (their non-negotiable principles) and their vision (how the future would look if they were delivering on their purpose). By understanding themselves, businesses can then work out the change they are best placed to make and which audiences would benefit.
The second tool helps businesses focus in on their specific audience. “Ultimately, understanding your audiences beyond demographics is a really useful way of focusing on who you can help and why,” she explained. The tool encourages businesses to think about the most urgent needs of their customers, what the biggest hopes of their customers might be, and also “what keeps them up at night” – basically what their major concerns were.
“If we ask these three key questions about our audiences, they can really help us get under the skin of how to communicate with people in a way that is relevant to them,” she said.
The final tool helps businesses understand the stages of the typical customer journey so that they can bring together what they had determined using the first two tools and work out how to build a relationship with their customers at each stage. Ms Philip explained that a typical journey began with customer awareness of a product or service and then moved through the phases of understanding the product, considering its purchase, actually acquiring it and finally retaining customers, so that they came back to the business again.
The process is not always linear and customers jump between stages. However, at each stage, a business needs to work out the implications for itself; for example, how customers found the business, how they found out more information, and what encouraged them to come back. A business also has to work out what its customers require at each stage; for example, what information they need to move them through the journey. Finally, a business needs to work out how it could demonstrate its values at every stage.
“Communication is not a one off,” Ms Philip said, “and it’s not just about us broadcasting out information that we want to tell people. It’s about understanding the needs and priorities of our audiences at the different stages they engage with us.”
Summing up, she said: “If we’re looking at how we drive positive change and our ability to communicate to changing demographics, there are three things that we need to do. We need to understand who we are, because that helps us understand who we are best placed to help; what the changes are that we’re best placed to serve; and also who we might need to communicate to with to deliver that change.
“We need to understand our audiences beyond demographics so that even if the profile of what they look like changes, their needs and motivations don’t, and we understand that. And then we need to create journeys that build a relationship with them over time so people understand who we are and our audiences understand how we can help.”